Clause 7 - Notification of court and date of trial

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:45 pm ar 13 Chwefror 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:45, 13 Chwefror 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 100, in page 4, line 24, leave out `by' and insert `before'.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 99, in

page 4, line 24, leave out

`the offence will be tried' and insert—

`and the time at which, he must appear'.

No. 101, in page 4, line 25, at end insert—

`( ) A warning notice shall be given in the manner prescribed by order made by the Secretary of State, such power to be exercisable by statutory instrument.

( ) Such an instrument shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament'.

No. 111, in page 5, line 3, leave out subsection (7).

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Amendments Nos. 100 and 99 would make the date given in the warning notice an appointment to arrange a trial date rather than the trial date itself. Amendment No. 101 would require the manner of giving a warning notice to be prescribed by order. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire will no doubt speak to amendment No. 111.

I shall start with amendments Nos. 100 and 99. If a warning notice with a fixed trial date is given, the officer in the case will have to attend court if the accused fails to pay and requests to be tried. I wonder how many accused will fail to attend. What assessment has the Minister made of that? If the practice of requesting trial and failing to attend becomes established, it could prove time-consuming for officers. Surely it would be better to see whether the accused attends and means what he says, and then set a trial date.

Photo of Mr David Lock Mr David Lock Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

Would it assist the hon. Gentleman if I tell him that, while we cannot accept, for technical reasons, the form in which the amendments are drafted, we are prepared to consider the underlying principle—to provide more information to the accused about when he needs to attend before trial in the unusual circumstances set out in the clause. We are prepared to table at a later date amendments that are similar in substance, though not in form.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is very helpful, and I shall not say any more about amendments Nos. 100 and 99.

Amendment No. 101 would require the manner of giving a warning notice to be prescribed. As the notice is to be in lieu of a summons, should there not be similar provisions as to jurisdiction and service as apply to a summons? If not, can the Minister explain briefly why? I mentioned earlier the provisions in rule 99 of the magistrates courts rules about the way in which summonses are to be served. Before issuing a summons, magistrates are supposed to give careful consideration to the question of jurisdiction. The magistrates manual states:

``This applies ... in order to proceed to hear an information for a summary offence outside the commission area in which it is alleged to have been committed, it must appear to the justice ... necessary or expedient, with a view to the better administration of justice, for a person charged'' to be dealt with in that way. Has the Minister given any thought to that issue of jurisdiction?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

Amendment No. 111 suggests that subsection (7) be removed. The subsection says:

``If a person has been given a warning notice, section 14 of the Act of 1980 (proceedings invalid where accused did not know of them) does not apply.''

I believe that the clause would be better if those words were left out.

The structure of the Bill is rightly designed to cut down the amount of bureaucracy needed to impose a modest penalty on a miscreant without the need for criminal proceedings, but it is not designed to keep out of the courts cases in which an alleged offender contests the allegations and wants to be tried. There is a real risk that, for some reason or other, there will be a misunderstanding in the penalty notices or something that is thought to have been given is not received, is simply forgotten about—which may not be good enough for the purposes of the amendment—goes astray in the post or arrives after magistrates have dealt with the matter.

In a sense, subsection (7) is a belt and braces provision. In effect, it states that even if the alleged offender who wishes to have his case tried knows nothing about having been told to appear at a certain magistrates court, he will none the less be deemed to have known about it. Nothing could be done about that, and that would be wrong. If we were to leave a window open so that an alleged offender could tell the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts that he was never served and that he wants to contest the assertion, the result would not be a large number of cases. Rather, it would provide the opportunity to avoid injustice in genuine cases.

Subsection (7) is unnecessary, and it would be wise to leave open the window to which I have referred. New clause 5—which is not to be discussed now, but which works along lines similar to the amendment—would also give a window of opportunity for justice to be done when something has gone wrong or has not quite connected. I commend the amendment to the Ministers, and I hope that they will accept it immediately. If they cannot, I hope that they will at least think about it seriously, and I look forward to their response.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes to Ten o'clock till Thursday 15 February at five minutes to Ten o'clock.